What’s the Difference Between Paperless and Digital?

Are you aware of the difference between paperless business and digital business?

Paperless business is definitely efficient, far more efficient and effective than using only paper-based systems. More efficient than paperless systems are truly digital business processes.

A paperless system may actually still involve a lot of paper. Many businesses accept paper documents and then have a staff member scan and digitally file the documents. Many also keep both forms of records, paper original and a digital copy.

In this system, although electronic storage backup may provide greater security, mistakes still happen, documents may be scanned and misnamed, or perhaps the scan doesn’t work and later it is discovered the original has been shredded, requiring a copy to be requested from the supplier—costing time and energy.

For businesses using both systems, they may be needlessly spending time and energy processing both types of documents in the name of security.

Digital systems involve little or no paper; all documents and transactions are conducted electronically. This system provides an audit trail of documents received and sent, and if a secure digital signature system is used, the audit trail includes a time stamp for signatures.

Many business owners assume that paper must be kept in order to comply with record keeping obligations. Equally, it is often assumed that “in writing” means that an original paper document must be held.

Digital Records are Allowed!

The Electronic Transactions Act 1999 provides for electronic and digital communication and storage of information.  This allows all business transactions, including employee related documents, to be communicated and stored digitally. 

So long as a high standard of security is maintained by the business, electronic and digital record keeping is fine.

Benefits of Going Digital

  • Space saving – you need to keep business records for seven years. How much of that is taking up filing cabinet space in your office – or at home?
  • Searchability, retrievability and accessibility
  • Reduced clutter
  • Easy backup in case of disaster
  • Environmental impact is reduced
  • Communications are faster
  • Customisation of settings to place parameters around your digital communications and filing
  • Real time insights—you are not waiting for your staff to receive, process, collate and file physical documents, they are filed as soon as received electronically—especially if this is integrated with your accounting system.
  • Accessibility and transferability of important information both within the organisation and with external parties

Choose the Right Apps for the Right Benefits

There are many digital solutions available now and it can be overwhelming knowing where to start if you are not familiar with the digital world.

Think about all the aspects of running a business that could go digital:

  • Project management – how do you currently track where a project is up to and who has responsibility for what?
  • Internal communications amongst your staff and teams – how often are you wondering who was going to do that thing, but you have no record of the meeting or discussion or can’t find the notes taken by hand at the time?
  • Digital encrypted signature – much faster and actually more secure than physical signatures which can be forged.
  • Social media management – use one platform to manage all your posts in multiple platforms.
  • Marketing, newsletter and email management – again, use one platform to manage your direct customer communications campaigns.
  • Automatic document retrieval and filing – use a solution that will allow you to email, scan, upload or automatically retrieve statements and invoices from major suppliers.
  • Shared documents – use a platform that allows multiple users to edit the same document and track who has done what when.
  • Note keeping – some of the best note taking tools allow for checklists, templates, attachments, itineraries and much more. Using a digital note taking app will revolutionise how you do business. Other apps related to this are to-do list and reminder apps.
  • Electronic hand-written notes – for those who love to write not type, you can still do this electronically with a digital pen.
  • Secure online backup – are you still making a backup and taking it home with you on a hard drive? Set up a backup option and then let automation do the rest.
  • Online payment services – give your customers multiple ways of paying you to make it easy for them and speeding up the payment times for you.
  • Shared calendars for your whole team – see who’s doing what where when. Encourage staff to use it and even if you are a sole trader, your electronic calendar can be an easy way of referring back to projects, work and client appointments.
  • Online calendar booking and scheduling system – allow your customers to book time with you at a time that suits them without tedious email or phone tag.
  • Online customer service management solutions – track your customer engagement and support.
  • Event booking systems – make it easy on your customers and offer an online booking system rather than still relying on telephone and email bookings.
  • Mind mapping tool – for the creatives out Try sticky notes and free drawing apps to capture all your ideas.
  • Online accounting software – if you are still manually entering data for historic transactions and playing catch up before you can run a meaningful financial report of any sort, you need to upgrade your accounting software.
  • Online point-of-sale systems – choose one that fully integrates with your accounting system to minimise data entry and maximise the customer experience.
  • Online payroll and human resources management – solutions are available that take care of all aspects of payroll and leave calculations, and more such as GPS tracking, scheduling, and shift cost calculations.
  • Expense management apps – for those who have staff on the road, get them to use a phone app and capture expenses on the fly with the camera rather than laborious paper form submission and approval processes.
  • Video meetings – do you really need to travel across town for that meeting? Face to face meetings will always have a valuable place in business transactions; but consider using video meeting and conferencing options which allow important meetings to be recorded when needed.
  • Password protector – one of the most invaluable apps you will ever pay for. The average small business owner doing everything digitally accesses many dozens and perhaps over a hundred passwords for all that you do online. If you include your personal passwords as well, you may reach a couple of hundred login credentials that you need to run your life. Let an encrypted app manage all that for you in order to maximise your online security.
  • Yikes that’s a long list! And there are industry-specific aspects of many businesses that could also go online that are not mentioned here.
  • And of course – to maintain a calm state of mind in the digital world you can access mindfulness and meditation apps throughout the day!

Can You Go Digital?

Assess what you currently print and store physically. Assess your business systems in light of the list above and consider whether going digital in any or all areas relevant to your business could be beneficial.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Is there a legal obligation to keep these documents? Is it an old habit that dictates this process? Do you feel more secure having physical paper around?
  • Do you really need to print documents in order to read and edit them? Have you tried other screens or applications that may make this easier to do electronically?
  • Be honest—do you like clutter? Can you find what you need on your desk at a moment’s notice? Maybe you do actually like clutter—that’s okay; but consider the impact on your business efficiency and the people you work with and whether it is actually holding you or your business back in some way.
  • Does your filing system take up a lot of space that would be better used some other way?
  • If there are colleagues or staff involved, talk to them first. How is the move to digital business going to impact them? You might love the idea but for administration staff it may require significant time and procedure change to go digital.
  • Be realistic. Don’t try to do everything at once. What is the most time-wasting manual paper-based process you currently have? Tackle that first. Schedule the other solutions gradually in a sustainable time frame.

How Will it Save You Time and Money?

There are countless benefits to going digital and it will depend on the nature of your business and stage of the business. There is no doubt that adopting digital systems when starting a new business is way easier than transitioning an existing business to digital when it has been recording everything by paper for decades!

It may require an ‘ambassador’ in your business to help ease the transition, someone who can manage the process and guide people in the conversion to new systems and procedures.

Physical space saving, reduced office space, reduced hardware (although maybe you will need to upgrade computers first), reduced travel time,

Reduced administration time is a big factor for many small businesses. Once systems are set up correctly, the actual running of those systems can be very easy. Usually, subscriptions to online apps includes the support—so if you need help it’s free and easy.

Many apps are priced according to the number of users or customers—so you are not paying for technology that is beyond your needs.

Another major benefit is that almost everything can be tracked in real time—so you are no longer guessing about the relevant stats or information to make business decisions—you can get it as needed from the online app data. Accuracy of data and reporting is another advantage of going digital.

What Next?

Business is going digital. If you are resisting the move towards doing business online and digitally, are you going to survive and thrive? Maybe you can now—but what if you want to sell the business down the track? Maybe it’s time to consider starting the move towards digital processes now.

With the Government and ATO position being “digital by default” it is becoming the norm. The sooner you embrace the change the easier it will be to comply with your obligations as a business owner. Not to mention the new reporting obligation Single Touch Payroll – more on that in a future article. (Law has been passed making STP mandatory for all employers).

If you’re not already using Xero online accounting software talk to me about implementing Xero and a range of other online apps designed to maximise business and personal efficiency. Get your business financial records online first and then work towards implementing integrated and complementary solutions to make your life easier, more enjoyable and more efficient.



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